Groovin' in the Go-Go '60s
07/27/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
Burning his guitar onstage was the least interesting thing JIMI HENDRIX ever did to rock's premier instrument. Among the more innovative: his screeching rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock in '69. The New York Times labeled Hendrix "the black Elvis" in '68—a prophetic description. Hendrix, like Elvis, inspired messianic awe and met a tawdry end, exiting in '70, not in a "Purple Haze" but in a drug-induced fog.
They began as the Primettes, three Detroit high schoolers in homemade dresses singing as the sister group to the Primes (later the Temptations). But when Motown's Berry Gordy made them over in '64, they emerged as a trio of sequined sirens with syncopated moves, glamorous wigs and a new name: the SU-PREMES. Before lead singer Diana Ross went solo in '70, they had notched more consecutive No. 1 singles than any U.S. group in history.
Rock didn't roll in the songs of JIM MORRISON, it raged. As the Doors' front man, he penned lyrics filled with images of death and sex, while in performance, he was a Dionysian deity, inciting frenzy and incurring obscenity charges. Convicted of drunkenness and indecent exposure in 1969, he fled to Europe; two years later, at age 27, he died, a sudden, grim fulfillment of his romanticized belief that "getting drunk...is a lot of small choices...a slow capitulation."
At 12 he was "Little" STEVIE WONDER, the "negro genius" (as the press called him) whose "Fingertips, Part 2" snapped its way to No. 1. He would outgrow both those adjectives, becoming a pop giant and a vivid voice in the black pride movement, who fielded questions about his blindness with grace: "A handicap isn't a handicap unless you want it that way."
With the widely publicized dimensions 31-23-31, TWIGGY gave the hourglass figure time out in '66; from then on, thin was in. Claiming she "ate like a horse," the 92-1b. British cover girl won wows on runways as the mini-skirted minx with doleful eyes. She earned a million dollars in royalties from her Twiggy doll, an equal sum as the face of Yardley cosmetics, and triggered a run on eyeliner as women painted spiky Twiggies beneath their lower lashes.
JAMES BROWN was the Godfather of Soul, the Minister of Funk, a combustive mix of R&B, acrobatics and bravado. "Sometimes I look back on my life and wonder just how one man could do so much," he once said, with characteristic immodesty.
From the start, WARREN BEATTY's courtships outpaced his credits. A '60s sampling: Splendor in the Grass, Bonnie and Clyde, Joan Collins, Natalie Wood, Julie Christie. Looking back in '90, Beatty said, "Anybody who becomes a movie star when they're 22 is going to be eccentric. It's an eccentric situation."
They say now that theirs wasn't exactly a love-in. But for a few years folk facsimiles SONNY and CHER were pop's first couple. Originally joined as Caesar and Cleo, Salvatore Bono and second wife Cherilyn Sarkisian hit No. 1 in 1965 with their sing-along love anthem, "I Got You, Babe." Played out by 1969, the duo remade themselves into a telegenic lounge act for the 70s. Mused Sonny: "The biggest mistake a performer makes is to try to stay a teenager."
A more unlikely target of teen screams had never rambled down the pike. First reports out of New York City, where he had become the Folk King in 1962, were of an unwashed scrub with dirty fingernails and a voice that, to some ears, sounded like the same on chalkboard. With his genius for lyrics, BOB DYLAN forever a-changed the form and content of popular song. But Dylan rejected the "spokesman for his generation" tag: "I was just a kid from the Midwest who wanted to make it."
"What can a poor boy do/ Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band?" Nobody did it better than MICK JAGGER, the middle-class lad who quit the London School of Economics to invent the Jaggerian Theory: sex + drugs + rock and roll = Rolling Stones. Jagger sang black man's blues but shook his moneymaker like Tina Turner, leading TIME to anoint him the "supreme sexual object in modern Western culture." Remarking on his appeal, he said, "There's always room for the androgynous type."
RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN elevated the pulse rate of young women everywhere in 1961 in Dr. Kildare, a soapy, gore-free hospital drama focusing on the young hunk in training. Critics branded Chamberlain "a bland bottle of milk." But 80 million fans drank it up.
After early Elvis and before the Beatles, there were the BEACH BOYS, who took a Chuck Berry riff ("Sweet Little Sixteen"), wondered what "if everybody had an ocean" and started America dreaming about "Surfin' U.S.A." Lead Boy Brian Wilson made the banal mythic in a string of tunes that saturated radio with vocal harmonies and lyrics that made Southern California pop culture's Camelot.
Mod Squad undercover cops Lincoln Hayes (CLARENCE WILLIAMS III), Julie Barnes (PEGGY LIPTON) and Pete Cochran (MICHAEL COLE) busted druggies and looked cool doing it in love beads and paisley. But offscreen, said Cole, the apolitical trio just hoped "to stay on the air long enough to make some bread."
The EVERLY BROTHERS became first-wave rock stars in the late '50s with "Bye Bye Love." But Phil and Don, whose parents sang country music, made such a sweet noise that it resonated through the '60s. "Without them," said one critic, "there would be no McCartney and Lennon, no Simon and Garfunkel."
In the '60s, message minstrel DONOVAN was the psychedelic "Mellow Yellow" man. Today his words sound like a cross between a New Age prophet and a Coke spot: "I want to teach the world to dance," he proclaimed in '68, "to sing again, to learn to release itself."
Everything about them was big: their hair, their eyes, their sound. But the RONETTES—Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett, sister Estelle and cousin Nedra Talley—swiveled in the flick Twist Around the Clock and sang in obscurity before getting a boost from producer Phil Spector. They flew to stardom with "Be My Baby" in 1963, and Spector and Ronnie later wed. The Ronettes split in '66, the couple in '74.
Since the mid-'60s, JERRY GARCIA's Grateful Dead have idled on vinyl (only one hit single) but thrived live, doling out their acid rock. Garcia is amazed at what a long, strange trip it has been: "Someone once wrote that we're a real cheap vacation to Bermuda, which is kind of right."
They knocked the Beatles from the pop pedestal in '64 when "Glad All Over" took the top slot on Britain's charts. After that, the DAVE CLARK FIVE couldn't tie their shoes without the rock press pondering whether they were out-lacing the moptops. They didn't, of course, disbanding in '73. Clark would later say, "You've got to move on. I quit while I was ahead."
PETULA CLARK was 32 When "Downtown" went up the charts in '65. A veteran performer in Britain since age 9, she was shocked by the tumultuous reception she got on Ed Sullivan: "I had no idea 'Downtown' was such a huge hit until I walked out on that stage."
Amid the tiedyed hallucinogenic '60s, the primary-colored platters of BOBBY VINTON—"Blue Velvet" and "Roses Are Red"—were somewhat colorless. Still, love songs spring eternal: Vinton crooned more No. 1 hits from to 72 than any male vocalist.